Religious tolerance has been one of the forefront topics of the nation for the past several years. Tolerance for those who choose to maintain a religion, those who don’t, and anyone in between.
Tolerance is a step in the right direction, but religious respect must drive the conversation if it is to go any further. Respect is hard. The climate currently fostered by the general populace calls for the dismissal of others’ ideas or values and the assumption that personally held beliefs are always right.
As a community and as a nation, the mindset needs to shift from tolerance to respect. Religions are difficult to understand, and I don’t pretend to undersand many, but I can respect them.
I was taught the key concepts of Tibetan Buddhism by a monk, Lama Ji, over the period of a few weeks, and I still can’t understand most of it. I don’t understand the god-on-earth form of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, or the driving force behind the god with a thousand eyes and arms, and I certainly cannot rectify reincarnation based on my merit in this lifetime. I don’t believe anything he told me, but I can respect him, and not just the man behind the religion, but the religion itself.
This isn’t to say religions are unquestionable. Understanding and respect can only come about through exposure to opposing ideas. Questions have an odd habit of flustering people and pushing them on the defensive. Often, when being asked questions about their religion, people feel that they themselves, who they are at their core, their character, is being questioned. It’s difficult to separate themselves from their beliefs and often leads to hurt feelings and wounded egos.
Respect for religion needs to become common. Tolerance implies putting up with something inconvenient or going out of one’s way to allow something to occur. Tolerance in not acceptable when respect is what we need. I will never understand Tibetan Buddhism on a personal level, but neither will Lama Ji understand Christianity.
Some of the last words Lama Ji said to me perfectly illustrated his respect for my Christian faith and his own. “Maybe in your next life you will be Buddhist.” He didn’t dismiss what I believed, and he didn’t sneer for my lack of understanding. He respected me, and I respected him. If these exchanges were common, tolerance would fade into the background, and respect would show the way toward loving each other.